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UPDATE: Clearest sign that Wallabies captain Skelton is OUT of Fiji game, coach names back up skipper

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Editor
16th September, 2023
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SAINT ETIENNE – Wallabies captain Will Skelton is set to miss his side’s crucial Pool C World Cup Test against Fiji on Sunday (Monday, 1:45am AEST) and is in danger of being ruled out of the rest of the tournament.

While Eddie Jones told reporters on Friday morning that his captain would be given “right up until kick-off” to prove his fitness, The Roar understands Skelton will be ruled out as he awaits scans after pulling up lame with a “tight calf”.

The Wallabies are insisting Skelton will be given up the kick off to prove fitness, but Skelton missed a team photo in St Etienne on Saturday and was replaced by Matt Philip. Philip was wearing the No.19 shirt with Nick Frost wearing No.4 and Richie Arnold, who was expected off the bench, in No.5.

Assistant coach Dan Palmer told reporters that scans showed Skelton has a “minor strain” and remains a chance to play. If he can’t make it Dave Porecki will captain the team.

The Roar has been told Skelton went down at training on Thursday late afternoon, collapsing to the ground, before making his way off the Stade Roger Beaudras training ground gingerly.

On Friday morning, minutes after Skelton was named in Jones’ side to partner Nick Frost in the second-row, Wallabies management said the La Rochelle-based lock was going for scans but was “at this stage” available.

Will Skelton is set to miss the Wallabies’ second World Cup clash against Fiji. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

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The Roar, however, understands the Wallabies fear Skelton’s “tight calf” is potentially a tear rather than a strain.

Jones was giving nothing away regarding his prized lock, saying: “At this stage, he’s still in the team”.

“He got a bit of a knock at the end of training. He is just getting some extra medical work now.” 

Asked how big a blow it would be to lose Skelton, Jones attempted to shut down the line of questioning.

“We don’t deal in hypotheticals,” he said. 

In the short-term the Wallabies have adequate replacements up their sleeve to handle Skelton’s absence.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE WALLABIES’ TEAM TO TAKE ON FIJI

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David Porecki and Wallabies coach Eddie Jones address the media ahead of Sunday’s World Cup clash against Fiji. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Toulouse-based Richie Arnold, who got one over Skelton by defeating his La Rochelle to claim this year’s French Top 14 in Paris, would likely be promoted back to the starting side.

That could also pave the wave for Matt Philip returning via the bench, with the lineout specialist used sparingly under Jones thus far this year since returning from an ACL injury in May.

The injury comes fresh off the back of Taniela Tupou’s hamstring injury, which has forced Jones to call up James Slipper at tight-head prop just days after being declared fit to return from a foot injury.

As The Roar revealed on Tuesday, Tupou would not just miss the clash against Fiji but is also in doubt to feature in the rest of the pool stage.

“He’s got a hamstring strain,” Jones said. “We believe he’ll be available in the next couple of weeks.” 

The injuries to two of the Wallabies’ biggest men has turned the focus back to their strength and conditioning program.

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After playing deep into the second half against France on August 27, Skelton and Tupou were both replaced after 69 minutes during their side’s 35-15 win over Georgia.

The match was played in sweltering heat, where the temperature was above 30 degrees Celsius for the entire game.

James Slipper and Taniela Tupou at Wallabies training at Stade Roger Baudras on September 13, 2023. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

While the Wallabies had a recovery and travel day on Sunday, they hit the ground running on Tuesday where Jones has tweaked their training program.

Unlike most training programs, Jones’ Wallabies have trained for three straight days rather than two days on, one day off.

Asked whether there was an issue with the training load, Jones straightbatted the question.

“Can’t tell you,” he said.

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Should Skelton indeed be ruled out, who takes over the captaincy duties remains to be seen with Slipper the most likely candidate, while Samu Kerevi is a part of the leadership group and was Michael Cheika’s vice-captain in 2019.

It was only a week ago Jones marvelled at Skelton’s ability to bring the side together, pointing to the Wallabies’ improved discipline after giving just seven penalties away against Georgia.

“I think it’s a testament to Will, his leadership on the field,” Jones said.

“Penalties are generally because people go out of kilter. No player ever tries to give away a penalty.

“It’s a real credit to Will and the way he’s leading the team, the ways he’s got the boys together off the field, and there’s a real feeling that this team could do something and they’re all working for each other.”

Jones was giving little away at his press conference, where the usually playful and expansive coach was abrupt and had little time for insights around the team and injury updates – with the exception of one notable exchange with a well-regarded English journalist.

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Jones said that while international rugby was thriving, it wasn’t necessarily because of the product on the field.

He took the opportunity to push World Rugby to try and bring back more speed in the game, with less breaks of play that had meant teams had focussed on producing more explosive and powerful athletes.

“I just think the game is evolving, you can see in this World Cup the game’s evolving into 30-second bouts of absolute power, so big people playing the game, you’ve got these 30-second bouts of power then interspersed with a two-minute burst of like soccer/football, where there’s a lot of transition and you’ve got to be able to play really quickly,” Jones said.

“It’s really fascinating at the moment where the game will go next.

“World Rugby have tried to make the game safer, but they’ve made it more powerful, made it more powerful by having more stoppages in the game. And there’s risk to that, there’s risks when the game becomes more powerful.

“But I think this World Cup will be decided by who can win those power contests, but then it might be in one game, and particularly a game like Fiji where there is a lot of counterattacking, that it might be one of those football/soccer-type episodes where there is a lot of transitional play.

“So I think the game’s in a really fascinating spot. Coaching-wise, like how [do] you prepare S&C-wise for two different games is quite intriguing, and then how you get the players to get the skill set to be able to play in this power game and at the same time be able to play an open transitional game.”

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